Intel thinks small in mobile spotlight

The chip leader demonstrated at the Intel Developers Forum (underway in San Jose, California) everything from vendor notebooks with 1GHz processors to a new low-power chip, and the first pre-production notebook using Tualatin.

Intel executives showed off an attractive, blue, thin-and-light notebook from WinBook, featuring Intel's first mobile 1GHz chips. The new processor -- and notebooks it will power -- are due to launch before mid year. Both AMD and Transmeta are expected to launch new mobile processors in coming months.

Intel also launched its low-voltage mobile PIII with SpeedStep. Different from the ultra low-power chip for sub notebooks announced in January, the 700MHz chip is faster, but uses slightly more power. Intel targets the product for mini notebook models and says it still uses less than 1 watt of power during average use in its 500MHz battery-optimised mode.

Tualatin: Think small, integrated

While the 1GHz notebooks draw an emotional response similar to the first 1GHz desktops, and the new low-power 700MHz chip is impressive, the Tualatin demonstration is more significant from a technology standpoint.

Tualatin is the first Intel chip ever to use a .13-micron manufacturing process; current mobile and desktop processors come from a .18-micron process, says Frank Spindler, general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group. The new process means each chip has more, smaller, and faster transistors, which increases performance while requiring less power. The Dell notebook on display here is running at faster than 1GHz, according to Intel.

And Tualatin represents more than just a process change -- it's actually a new processor core, Spindler says.

Intel isn't saying much about the new chip except that its technology comes from the existing mobile PIII. However, Spindler promises "significant new features." The company is not yet telling the chip's real name.

Spindler is quick to point out, however, that Tualatin does not represent Intel's move to the Pentium 4 architecture in the mobile segment. That won't happen in 2001, he says.

Intel will launch its Tualatin chips starting in the second half of this year and expects to offer them first in mobile products. You'll see them in all segments by year-end, including notebooks that Intel classifies as full size, thin and light, mini notebook, and sub notebook, Spindler says.

A desktop version of Tualatin is also planned for release sometime this year, according to Intel sources.

Chip set supports notebooks

To accommodate Tualatin, Intel is preparing a new chip set called the 830M. Details are scarce, but Spindler says the product with use SDRAM and will soon replace the mainstream 440BX chip set that has dominated the mobile market since its introduction with the Pentium II in 1998, he says. Intel's 440MX chip set will continue to cater to the mini notebook and sub notebook markets, he says.

During questioning at the event, Spindler hinted the 830M could integrate more processing components, similar to the 815EM chip set, which includes integrated graphics. Increased integration helps cut manufacturing cost and can decrease power consumption, he says.

Despite Intel's continuing work to lower the power consumption of its processors and chip sets, Spindler notes that chips make up only about 10 per cent of the battery drain in a notebook.

To keep batteries running significantly longer, manufacturers of other notebook component must also lower power consumption, he says. The LCD in particular uses the most power of any component, Spindler says.

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Tom Mainelli

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